Khanna bringing the revolution to you
By DOUGLAS BURNS
Here’s the big question of the political hour — and it frames the way a young congressman from California’s Silicon Valley sees the lane for his service in Washington, D.C., and growing interaction with Iowans.
Ro Khanna, a Democrat elected to a second term in November, knows that many rural Americans, sweeps of folks in the countryside of Iowa, are angry over real and perceived losses to their way of life.
Recent elections, as Khanna is well aware, have seen that discontent manifest in anti-immigrant language or votes and vitriol hurled against political figures tied to the urban elite like Hillary Clinton.
Should rural Iowans feel this angry, is it earned and real, and if so, where should it be directed?
“Well, they should feel angry because the governing elite of this country have let them down,” Khanna said in a 40-minute interview with this newspaper in Jefferson on Saturday. “We have had a digital revolution that began in the 1990s and accelerated now. You have had concentration of economic success in places like my district, Silicon Valley, or Boston or Austin, and you have had a large part of the country left out. And their talent has been left out.”
Rural Americans served in wars and mined coal and built the manufacturing base, and increasingly, there is little, if any, role for them in the new economy, one in which wealth is scooped and segregated to the coasts, Khanna said.
His mission: bring the software revolution to places like Jefferson, Iowa, or Kentucky or West Virginia. It’s a matchless remedy to the over-brewed rural-urban divide, one that is dividing the nation, Khanna said.
And he said Big Tech gets it — which is why he brought a delegation from Silicon Valley to Jefferson this past weekend.
“There’s talent here and they might as well get in on that game,” Khanna said, noting the cost of living is lower in rural America.
Jobs that pay $100,000 or more on the coasts could be filled for $70,000 in rural Iowa — making both the tech employer and employee happy, Khanna said.
“What we have to do, and what I’ve preached, is distributed jobs,” Khanna said. “Just like you have the cloud and distributed servers, you need distributed jobs. Not all the jobs have to be in my district. Not all the jobs have to be in Boston.”
His vision is to get people across rural America employed in tech-related jobs.
“That was what today was about,” Khanna said Saturday in Jefferson.
Almost 60 percent of jobs in the nation are going to require an ability to work with computers, Khanna said.
Retailers will have to understand the data-management platform Salesforce; manufacturing and contractors 3D printing; and electricians automated building designs.
“We are going to see software transform every different job, and it’s an extraordinary opportunity because now you can stay in your community, and you can work for a company or a business almost anywhere in the nation,” Khanna said. “So you now have so many more opportunities in rural America and places that may not be near major cities.”
A key is bringing 180,000 to 200,000 jobs back from places where they have been outsourced in nations like China and Brazil, Khanna said.
“I think first of all we start with the premise that rural America has extraordinary talent, innovation, work ethic,” he said. “The brilliance and talent of what built America, much of that comes from rural America, and we need to harness that talent.”
The question is why can’t those jobs be here in rural Iowa?
“There’s no special skill that doing data management or understanding basic software development or user design, all of those jobs can be done in the United States, and we have the talent to do it,” Khanna said. “What we need is the will.
“Jefferson has that will with a partnership with Pillar Technology and Des Moines Area Community College and Iowa Central Community College.”
The Congressman Ro Khanna File
Represents: The Silicon Valley area of California
Grew up in: Bucks County, Pa.
Government: Served as deputy assistant secretary of Commerce in Obama Administration
Education: B.A. in economics from the University of Chicago; law degree from Yale University
Authored: “Entrepreneurial Nation: Why Manufacturing is Still Key to America’s Future”
Is he running for president? No